When one of my daughters was learning to read, having graduated from her favorite One Fish Two Fish to books with plot, we stumbled on a wonderful little series of early readers about an old man and his cat, Mr. Putter and Tabby, by Cynthia Rylant. I was thrilled to find such deceptively simple books that told a little story but showed great sensitivity as well. In one of the books Mr. Putter is tenderly appreciating his garden, his cat, and life in general. There was a line, that has stayed delightfully with me, that went something like this: Mr. Putter was old and beautiful things meant more to him. All these years later, I still smile at that gentle bit of information that the author passed on to young readers. And so it is true with many of us who are fortunate enough to grow in grace with each passing year.
I began to be aware of this truth in my 40's, waiting for one of my high school aged kids to come out of school and realizing that every child that came out of the building was beautiful. Was it my need to update my corrective eye wear? The affluent community where orthodontics were a given, where dermatologists visits are routine as well as regular trips to the salon for perfect haircuts and even better highlighting? While these things were true, I knew it was something more. I was appreciating their youth, seeing the beauty of it as I had never seen before. Their vulnerability, their humor, their cub-like behavior was oh- so- endearing. Then not long after that, I found myself almost wonder-struck by a state- of- the art vending machine, all lit up and glowing yellow, with dancing M & M's, bright and vibrant, tumbling down its surface. My kids thought I was nuts. Isn't that so pretty? I had gasped and they craned their necks to see what I was admiring. They thought I was on the decline.
If this was decline, then I accepted it gladly. I was happy that the world was holding more beauty as I grew older, because the sorrows were beginning to be felt all the more poignantly. Sadness was all around and so deeply felt. There was more crying over the news than in years previous, more empathy for others, than ever before, a gift in and of itself too. But, this balance- gift of aging, this ability to see beauty where before it was unapparent, was most graciously received.
In more recent times, having had my heart broken open, my appreciation for all things, has been so magnified, that even I question whether this is normal. But guess what? If it's not, I don't care, because again, it is a benefit of heartache that I gather right up. If I told you that there are times when I might linger a bit over a porcelain toothbrush holder, painted with images of wisteria, thinking such wordless grace as, "awww, our tooth brush holder", would you think I was crazy? Or would you understand my appreciation of it because it cradles an everyday object that is held in the precious hands of my girls?
If I can get sentimental over a tooth brush holder, just think how full I feel when my girls' laughter rises from the other room and drifts under my bedroom door. Think of my joy when one of them plops down beside me on the couch and drapes her legs over mine without a moment's hesitation - such familiarity, such complete acceptance, such a sacred moment. Ottoman mom. How my heart leaps.
I have lost much in this restructuring of my life. I have lost friends who were uncomfortable with divorce. We have lost our home. I have lost my identity and any sense of security that I once had. I have lost my trust that I placed in a man, and wonder if I can ever give it again. But I have gained so very much too: everyday epiphanies, everyday moments of awe that I would not, could not ever trade back for the life I had before.
And so it is with such gratitude, that I look positively toward the New Year, knowing full well that it will probably bring even greater losses. But it is true; gratitude is the road to joy, and what a precious mystery it is to have a heart, so joyously broken.
Hoping beautiful things mean more to all of us this year. Happy 2012.